The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


I do not fight

Sickness isn't an enemy, it's a rooster's crow

This cancer doesn’t go away. It may lie a long while quietly, a year, several years—but then it will surely return and reclaim my attentions, drawing me back to the experiences of this past year. I will live in the meantime. The Mean-Time is remarkably short. I realize as much with all the fibers of my being, for it is precisely these, the fibers in my being, that tell me so.

All the fibers of my being ....

Perhaps that phrase may touch upon my reasons for refusing to use the imagery of warfare when speaking of my cancer. I have never construed my tumors as enemies to me.

No, I don’t judge others who thoughtfully do choose it, for whom “fighting” may be a helpful stance and attitude. On the other hand, I’m critical of the media when, without genuine thought or analysis, it routinely declares in its death notices that so-and-so died “after a long battle with cancer.” Why does it have to be a “battle”?

What? Are folks with cancer good fighters if they win? Bad fighters, failing falling foot soldiers, if they lose? Can they be heroic only in triumph? Listen: It never was an issue of defeat or victory. We are, all of us, going to die—what a terrible, terribly total annihilation such language must make of our perishings individual and wholesale, of our universal losses to sickness, disease and death.

Why not use the imagery that acknowledges how one experiences dying? How one behaves in the face of death? What one has to offer those who stand dearly by, stand vigil by. These conversations and offerings were familiar topics in the church of the past. Read 17th century Church of England clergyman Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Holy Dying (Elibron Classics reprint, Adamant Media Corp., 2001).

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